Growing Meyer Lemons at Home

meyer lemons

Story at-a-glance -

  • There are multiple methods of using lemons every day, including as zest in your cooking and juice in your cleaning supplies, beauty regimen and laundry, and to support your health and wellness
  • Benefits of consuming lemons include a protective effect on your liver, improved digestion, immune support and reductions in blood pressure
  • Meyer lemon trees may be grown in containers in most climates and can be moved outdoors during warmer weather. You’ll enjoy larger harvests when the plants are given adequate water, fertilizer and sunlight
  • Once harvested, you may store whole lemons for up to two weeks in a cool, dry, breathable container; for longer storage consider freezing the juice, zest and peel

By Dr. Mercola

Lemons are not just for cooking and drinking. In fact, there are multiple ways to use the rind, zest and juice in your cooking, laundry, cleaning and beauty regimen. Lemons are rich in vitamin C your body uses to build collagen, protect against cancer and relieve symptoms of asthma.1

Lemons have been grown in Florida since the 16th century, when Christopher Columbus brought them to the New World. The fruit is not only high in vitamin C but also antioxidant flavonoids, which may play a role in the prevention of heart disease, cancer and inflammation.2

Lemon juice is commonly added to teas and salad dressing, but too often are added as an afterthought, without full consideration of the number of benefits from this small, yellow fruit. While usually grown outdoors in tropical climates, as you discover the benefits you may want to grow your own to enjoy the fresh-picked-off-the-tree goodness grown at home without pesticides and other chemicals.

Benefits to Consuming Lemons

When life hands you lemons, it’s time to make a healthy glass of lemon water — not lemonade! Squeeze some juice over your salad, or mix it with a tall glass of warm water and a teaspoon of locally harvested honey for a healthy, delicious and refreshing drink. Although an acid outside the body, once consumed it helps alkalize your pH, counteracting the acidifying effects of processed and sugar-filled foods.3

Lemon juice has a protective effect on your liver, particularly on alcohol-induced liver injury in mice4 and may help support your gallbladder function and reduce the appearance of some types of gallstones.5 The phytochemicals and polyphenols may aid in digestion, metabolism and insulin sensitivity.6

Rutin is a bioflavonoid, originally named vitamin P in the 1940s. While not a vitamin, it is found in lemons and helps vitamin C work more efficiently.7 One of the key benefits is to strengthen the lining of your blood vessels and reduce bleeding, helping to treat hemorrhoids and reduce the potential for stroke.8

When the juice is applied directly to the scalp it may help treat dandruff, and may increase shine when applied to your hair.9 It may help reduce the pain of sun burn and bee stings, reduce acne and blackhead formation and may help fade burn scars.

A study found those who consumed lemons on a daily basis had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t.10 The risk of developing asthma also appears to be lower in people who eat a higher amount of nutrients, including vitamin C.11 Another study found vitamin C helps those diagnosed with asthma and bronchial type hypersensitivity when they were infected with the common cold virus.12 

Pairing foods high in vitamin C with iron-rich foods maximizes the body's ability to absorb iron.13 Foods high in vitamin C may help strengthen your immune system, and in one animal study, those who received lemon phenols with a high-fat diet for 12 weeks did not gain as much weight as those who did not receive the lemon peel phenols.14

Lemons are also known as an anionic food, meaning they have a higher number of negative ions than positive ions. These types of foods mirror other bodily fluids, such as stomach acid, saliva and bile, and as such mimic the work of your digestive fluids.15

No Matter Where You Live You Can Grow Your Own Lemons at Home

After discovering the many benefits to consuming lemons every day, you may be interested to learn you can grow citrus plants indoors no matter where you live. The easiest to grow are Meyer lemons, which are prized for a sweet flavor and don't carry the citrus virus decimating groves of citrus trees in Florida.16

Alternatives to the Meyer lemon tree are Lisbon lemons, Washington navel oranges and Bearss limes, all of which can easily be grown indoors.17 Growing Meyer lemon trees is hugely rewarding, as they are not only a prolific producer but the blossoms are also fragrant and beautiful.18

The Meyer lemon tree grows in a natural shrub-like shape, but can be pruned into a tree form. When planted outside, they may grow up to 10 feet tall and 12 feet wide. However, growing them in garden pots and indoors, the size of your plant will depend on the size of your pot.19

With proper care, a grafted Meyer lemon tree often produces fruit in as little as two years.20 Seed grown trees will bear fruit in four to seven years. Today's Meyer lemon trees are a hybrid from the University of California released in 1975.

Before this, the Meyer lemon tree was imported from China, and became increasingly popular. However, they were highly susceptible to disease and then banned to prevent the spread of disease to healthy fruit trees. Today's Improved Meyer lemon dwarf is a cross between an ordinary lemon and an orange.21

Harvest More Fruit When the Environment Is Right

The fruit is thin-skinned and grows readily under the right conditions. Since it is self-pollinating, you only need one tree in order to get fruit.22 Pot your lemon tree in a mixture of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 potting soil and 1/3 perlite to fill the pot.23 Add the tree to the center of the pot and slowly add water, pulling the tree up slightly to remove air pockets.

For a 2- to 3-year-old tree, you'll want to use a 12- to 15-inch-tall, 5-gallon pot.24 Improved Meyer lemon dwarf trees like full sun and a large pot with good drainage.25 Place your tree near a south-facing window. If your tree won't get eight to 12 hours of light, add grow lights to make up the time.

Your lemon tree will thrive in temperatures between 50 to 80 degrees F, but can survive to 32 degrees F. The trees also do not do well in strong wind when placed outside, or without sufficient sunlight. It's important to rotate your tree a quarter turn every week to ensure the entire tree receives enough light. 

Your tree will appreciate being outdoors during your summer months. The best time to move it is when the temperature outside is the same as it is indoors. Place the tree in the shade for the first two weeks outside to help it acclimate to outdoor weather.26

Lemons Have Specific Food and Water Requirements

It is important to consistently water your tree, keeping the soil damp, although the tree doesn't like too much water as it will kill it.27 Every two weeks spray the foliage with clean water and every 1.5 to two years repot the tree to avoid the tree from getting root bound in the pot.

The growing season is spring to fall, during which your tree will require feeding. Citrus trees respond well to foliar feeding with liquid fertilizer, such as compost tea or liquid kelp of fish emulsion.28 All citrus plants benefit from a slightly nitrogen-rich or balanced fertilizer that include micronutrients specific to citrus trees, such as magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, zinc and boron.29 

Your citrus trees like to have somewhat acidic soil, so acidic fertilizer may be beneficial, but not required. Grass trimmings from your yard — as long as you don't use pesticides — may add nitrogen to your trees. Scrape away the mulch from the base and sprinkle clippings to the soil. Add compost at least 2 inches away from the tree and sprinkle bone meal to add phosphorus.30 

Once fertilizer is added, water the tree to prevent burn that may happen when added to dry soil. It's important to withhold fertilizer during the winter months to slow the growth of the tree. Lemon trees live in containers nearly as long as they do in the ground, which can be close to 50 years.

Pruning Reduces Fungal Growth

The best time to prune your tree is after the fall harvest to give the tree time to recover prior to the next season's harvest. In a warmer climate you'll want to wait until the temperature drops in February through April. When pruning, use sharp, clean shears since as the wood is strong, the bark is thin and easily damaged.

Don't cut a branch flush with the trunk or larger branches as the goal is to preserve the branch collar — the area around the base of the link that may appear wrinkled or ridged.31 Cells in this area of the tree activate the formation of callus tissue, or wound wood.

If you have a branch larger than 1 inch in diameter, Gardening Know How32 recommends you use a three-cut system starting with an angled cut 10 inches out from the branch union. The second cut should be made one-third through the branch on the other side and then, moving a few inches up the length of the branch, cut from above, severing the branch.

Don't prune more than one-third of the tree in a year and keep it under 10 feet to make it easier to harvest from and care for. Prune enough to open the canopy to prevent fungal growth; excess pruning will affect blooming and your harvest.

Harvest and Store Your Lemons

In this short video you’ll discover how to store your Meyer lemons so you may enjoy them for weeks after you’ve harvested them. However, your tree needs to be pollinated in order to produce fruit.

If your tree is outdoors while blooming, bees in your area will likely take care of this process for you. If your plant is blooming indoors you’ll want to pollinate the blooms yourself by using a cotton swab to transfer pollen from one blossom to another.33

If your tree is indoors year-round, it may take up to one year for the fruit to ripen. Citrus fruit only continues to ripen while still on the tree, so be sure to wait until the fruit is ripened until you pick it. When Meyer lemons are ripe they are egg yolk yellow and slightly soft to the touch.34 Most Meyer trees bloom and produce fruit twice yearly starting age 3 to 5 years.

You may prevent damage to the tree by harvesting the fruit with a knife or scissors. Pulling the fruit may pull more bark than you intend and open the tree up to infection. Remember to store them in a cool dry place in a breathable box or paper bag, but not the refrigerator as this may reduce the flavor. This will keep the lemons for up to two weeks.

If you’d like to store the lemons for a longer period of time, run the lemon over a zester. You can freeze the zest to use later. You can then freeze the rest of the lemon to defrost and juice at a later date. Another option is to freeze the juice in an ice cube tray. You can also freeze the peel. First, break down the peel so it's flat. Next, thinly slice the peel and freeze on a tray. Store in a freezer bag to use later in stews, soups and dishes.

Aromatherapy and 61 More Ways to Use Lemons

Lemons are simple to add to your diet; they can be incorporated into vegetable juice, used in salad dressings, squeezed over veggies, or used to make lemon water. Additionally, you'll be amazed at just how many uses lemons have outside of the kitchen.

Using lemon essential oil for aromatherapy is another way to harness the healing power of lemons. Essential oils are, in many ways, the essence of the plant and provide therapeutic benefits in very small amounts. Data show lemon essential oil with other oils had anti-stress and antianxiety effects,35 and others have found lowered systolic blood pressure and sympathetic nervous system activity.36

The scent of lemon may help reduce nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. So, whether you use lemon for flavor and vitamin C, its antioxidant and cleaning powers or as part of your aromatherapy collection, you really can't go wrong. It's important to use fresh lemon juice over the pre-squeezed varieties at grocery stores, as the latter loses vitamin C content quickly.37

Around your home, lemons can be veritable superstars for cleaning, skin care and much, much more. Business Insider compiled more than five dozen ways to use lemons you’ll find in my previous article, “The Things You Can Do with Lemon Peels and Juice.”